Today, once again, I felt the power and transformation of truth. In therapy, I frequently support my clients to live out honesty and truth when they relate to others. Together, we work through the anxiety of honest expression and the potential conflicts that might arise from that communication. Today, I had to follow my own words. I had to share very personal feelings with a professional colleague. I had to state my needs and risk not getting them met. I had to risk rejection and being misunderstood. Despite all of those risks, the interaction lifted my spirits and set my anxieties free.
We’ve all been there. Something occurs in our relationship with someone, whether personal or professional, that upsets us. Some may not address it right away. Instead, we hold in our emotions which can further our bad feelings. Then we get anxious about having to confront the person. Sound familiar?
Conflict is inevitable and I am no stranger to it. My experience consistently shows me that holding in my difficult emotions is so much harder than expressing them to the one I’m in conflict with. Every time I confront a situation or let my voice be heard, I discover that my anticipatory anxiety is much, much worse than stating my concerns. ALWAYS.
Holding in uncomfortable emotions is toxic. It can feel like a physical weight that depresses your body and spirit. It takes up enormous space in your mind as you turn the thoughts over and over again. I firmly believe that when you lack self-expression on a chronic basis, it causes physical illness and disease.
So how do you have that difficult, risky conversation? Here are 5 tips toward healthy self-expression:
1) Be clear
What is your point? What do you want to be heard the most? What is your intention in having the conversation? Clarity in your thoughts helps you find the language to express yourself in a way that can be received openly.
2) Accept your messiness
Raw emotion is not always pretty. For example, as much as I wanted to keep my professional composure today, I became tearful as I spoke. Why? Because that’s what was real for me, so real, that I could not keep it back. Guess what? It was okay. So, focus less on “trying not to cry” and more on being real.
3) Use connective language
Do not use offensive language! If you want someone to open up to your difficult emotions, try to use language that helps them receive you. Name calling, accusations, blaming and finger pointing will only further alienate you. Also pay attention to your tone of voice and body language. Both hold so much information in self-expression.
4) Be willing to listen
Safe and healthy expression does not happen in isolation. It happens in relation to someone else. When you want someone to hear your concerns with an open heart, you too must be willing to listen to them. There must be room for both of you.
5) Don’t try to change the other
Healthy expression is never about changing the person receiving you. We do not have the power to change anyone else. Often, expressing oneself is transformative. The purpose is only to show up as your most honest and authentic self. Healthy expression demonstrates your own self-love and self-acceptance. By doing so, you free yourself of the heavy emotions within because you no longer bear them alone. If someone shifted their position due to your communication, great, but that should not be the goal.
My experience today validated all that I already know but still struggle to practice. This is a practice. It doesn’t necessarily get easier each time. But with practice, I improve my ability to tune in to myself. I know when I’m not feeling right about something and I find my courage to address my concerns.
With each expressive experience, I build faith in myself and strength in my relationships. You can too.